Cover Feature

April 30, 2016

A. E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company, Lithonia, Georgia

First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Galveston Island, Texas

First Presbyterian Church, Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island has a rich history and played a significant role in the birth of Texas. Three miles wide and twenty-seven miles long, it is a popular vacation destination, but also a permanent home to nearly 50,000 full-time residents.  

Our story starts when Hurricane Ike reached Galveston Island in September 2008. The destruction to the island was on a scale and scope that only can be described as apocalyptic. The winds that bore down on the island carried a storm surge into the sanctuaries of First Presbyterian Church and First Evangelical Lutheran Church, which were flooded as well as damaged by falling water. With the restoration work required by the church properties, it would be nearly five years before either church could consider repairs to the pipe organs. 

It was at this point that our firm was brought in to consult with both churches. We were contacted while we were in the area working at Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston (chronicled as the May 2014 cover feature in The Diapason). While it is not unusual for us to work in a city (or region) on several projects, it is rare to simultaneously build two instruments within walking distance of each other.

As I visited these churches, I viewed instruments that had been silenced for a number of years. Without playing these organs, I was left to survey the remnants of these instruments, extant organ pipes, and the history of these churches and their music programs; I would hold their stewardship and heritage in my hands. I am thankful and humbled by the trust placed in the A. E. Schlueter firm and me.

Early discussions reinforced to me that even though we were building two new organs, both churches wanted the instruments to be rooted in the previous instruments’ style. Neither was to be a slavish copy, but evocative of the pipe organs they had. This was a rare opportunity to build instruments patterned after two of our country’s prominent late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American organ builders. We allowed ourselves to be enveloped in tonal styles of the past while also considering the tonal developments that had occurred in the Pilcher and Hook & Hastings firms prior to their closing. This homage to history and stewardship has preserved the sounds that have supported generations in the Galveston Island community for over 100 years.


First Evangelical Lutheran Church

Founded as First German Evangelical Lutheran in 1850, the church annually hosts the official Galveston Island Oktoberfest on the church grounds. In 2013, the church auctioned a car during this annual event to help raise funds for the restoration of an organ to the chancel.

The third organ installed in the church’s former nave was Henry Pilcher’s Sons Opus 1334 of 1926. It was relocated to the new church chancel area in the 1950s, with an attempt to modernize the chancel organ stoplist by including some upper work via several highly unified stops, and some stop substitutions and exchanges. However, even with these changes, the basic fabric of the 1926 organ remained intact. During Hurricane Ike in 2008, the chancel organ console was partially submerged in water, and the wiring to the console under the nave floor was soaked with sea water. 

There is a second organ in First Lutheran’s rear gallery. In 1973, a new three-manual, 27-stop, 41-rank mechanical-action instrument was installed by Freiburger Orgelbau of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. This organ proved to be well suited for baroque music, while the Pilcher in the chancel, with its romantic scaling and voicing, continued to serve the basic service needs of the church, including weddings and funerals. The gallery organ was spared during the storm and continues to support worship in its unaltered form. While there is no desire to change the gallery organ from its mechanical action, there have been discussions to have the new chancel console be able to eventually remotely play the gallery organ. The new three-manual chancel console was designed with this in mind. 

Our new chancel instrument is built in homage to the style of the former Pilcher. We incorporated the Pilcher’s unaltered pipework; some stops such as the Swell 8 Diapason had leathered lips that had suffered severe water damage. While some builders have erroneously removed this leather in an attempt to “modernize” the sound of the pipes, this does not honor the former builders who made these tonal choices. We restored these pipes with their leathered lips. Other vintage pipework was similarly treated to return pipes to a former state. However, to open the organ to a wider body of repertoire, we incorporated hybrid stops (Gemshorn), the formants of a principal chorus, and upperwork and mutations that were in keeping with the stop design and voicing of the original instrument. The entire organ is under expression with a large exposure of chancel and nave shades. This allows the power of this instrument to be under complete dynamic control while almost entirely unenclosed when fully open. 

The organ has 25 ranks, divided between Great, Swell, and Pedal divisions. Since the console included the third manual, we allowed some of the unit stops on the organ to be registered from the third manual. The Great strings are so treated, as are the Swell reeds. 

The new movable chancel organ console is normally situated toward the front of the right transept chapel, which houses the 1915 altar from the former church. Because of its forward exposed location, it was important to keep its stature diminutive. We designed a terraced drawknob console with inbuilt casters to reduce its visual signature and allow for mobility. 

Since both pipe organs are normally played during a service, the new organ console’s division orientation of the keyboards was made the same as the gallery organ’s console. This eases the transition from one console to the other, even though they are very different instruments.

Even though the gallery organ, with its classic baroque sound, was not damaged by Hurricane Ike, the parish still longed for the return of the beloved chancel organ, with its warmth, grandeur, and rich tonal palette. The completed chancel organ has a nobility in its sound. It has its own unique identity as the “other” instrument in the church as well as resources to perform repertoire that would be challenging for the gallery organ, in spite of its size. The chancel has a rich sound that First Lutheran parishioners are thrilled to again experience.

I would like to thank the members of the organ committee with whom I worked and particularly recognize the efforts of the Reverend Dr. Douglass Guthier (retired) and organist/choirmaster Don Hermanson. Their mission to see the restoration of the organ to the chancel spanned years.


First Presbyterian Church

The congregation was organized in 1840. The present church, completed in 1889 after 16 years of construction, is considered one of the best examples of Norman architecture in the region. The church is known for its stained glass windows, including work by Tiffany.

The organ at First Presbyterian Church has had a unique history. Originally built in 1896 by the Hook & Hastings firm in Boston, the organ had mechanical action with three manuals and 30 ranks. Housed in a large oak case with stenciled wood and metal pipes positioned in the front right side of the church, the organ would be altered and changed a number of times over the years. In the 1940s its action was electrified, but it fell into disrepair in the 1970s. Under the direction of Roy Redman, it was rebuilt into a mechanical-action organ with new slider chests and enlarged to 54 ranks. At the time this work was completed, the instrument was purported to have been one of the larger mechanical-action organs built west of the Mississippi. In the 1990s, the mechanical action was discarded; a detached replacement console was installed, and the organ was converted to electric action. Even with numerous changes over time, the organ case,  façade, and the original pipework were constants. The organ remained in service until it was silenced by the hurricane. 

As our firm assessed the instrument we developed a plan that was centered on preserving the stewardship of the church heritage. It was important that the case and façade be retained without any visual change. There was a desire to keep the tonal style of Hook & Hastings but also to add resources to permit a broader capability of choral and congregational accompaniment. The Redman firm, which rebuilt and enlarged the organ in the late 1970s, had been kind in its treatment of the vintage Hook & Hastings pipework even as it enlarged the organ. We are grateful for the care they took, which allowed the Hook & Hastings pipework to be retained for reuse.

In consultation with the church and in consideration of the back and forth changes from mechanical to electric actions in the organ’s history, it was decided to employ slider action controlled by electric key action. Such an action would be very reliable in the island environment and allow layout and structural considerations that would not be possible with mechanical action.

As we studied the new organ design, it was clear that it would require a number of internal changes in structure and organ access and egress. Working with the architect we were able to define and open up a rear access for the instrument in the adjoining social hall stairwell. This allowed independent access to the Pedal, Choir, and Great divisions of the organ. The Swell is accessed through the original side door in the organ case. Without needing passage through the organ to access all of the interior workings we were able to raise the Swell organ to the impost level of the case so that the organ speaks out over the Choir rather than through it. The Choir and Great sit beside each other on the top level of the organ. 

To visually stay below the organ façade while raising the interior levels of the organ divisions, we developed “coffin” style slider chests that sit on the floor of the upper deck of the organ chassis. The Great chest is designed with pipes offset and arranged to allow it to sit in the front corner of the church where the arched ceiling timbers intersect. The pipes literally fit around the architecture. From this location the tonal energy of the Great division is splayed uniformly into the sanctuary to support congregational singing.

Unique with the building of this instrument is that we left the organ case and façade in situ for the entire time of our work. We very carefully removed the former organ chassis while temporarily restructuring to support the organ façade and case. The lower center section was removed to replace the case panels that had been altered for tonal egress in the 1970s. With the new interior elevations of the organ divisions, these lower grilles were no longer needed and new solid panels were built. The restored lower case helps to focus and direct the choir voices from the choir loft. A corollary benefit is that the raised elevations took the sound of the lower division of the organ out of the choir members’ ears. The new organ chassis is built of steel and heavy timbers with solid ceilings and floors for the enclosed divisions. As is our practice, the expression boxes were built overly thick to fully contain the enclosed divisions. 

To control the organ, we built a traditional three-manual drawknob console. The console exterior is built of oak and finished to match the organ case. The design of the console frame evokes the organ casement. The console interior is paneled in rich mahogany with ebonized accents.

Prior to removing the organ, we brought a voicing machine to the church to evaluate the pipes. This allowed us to hear the pipework in the sanctuary, establish wind pressures, and gauge the tonal balance of the stops in the room as they existed and importantly, could exist. We held these sounds in our heads and our hearts as we developed the new specification.

With the exception of pipes that were beyond repair due to condition, almost all of the Hook & Hastings pipework found a home, in part or whole, in the new instrument. In some instances, we did reallocate pipes from their position in the original 1896 stoplist where they better served the revised tonal design. 

The original reeds were retained and rebuilt and include the original shallots and reed tongue thicknesses where this was possible. The condition of the reeds after over 100 years of age and multiple hands required substantial rebuilding, and we took great care to preserve these stops.

While the specification has a large 8 center at its core, we included upper work and mutations to add color, variety, and the treble ascendant completions of the principal and flute choruses. The completed instrument retains its past voice but with additional resources that let it take part in a broader range of music as it supports worship in this historic church.

I would like to personally take the opportunity to thank the organ committee members Jennifer Klein Salyer, director of worship arts; Ruben Rincon, Jr., organist; Mike Cowan; David Salyer; and Lesley Sommer. Their efforts and support were invaluable.


In closing

We would like to thank these congregations who treated us like extended family while we completed these instruments. They buoyed us with their support and prayers and genuinely have become our friends and extended congregations. As a way of thanks and in the form of a tithe, both instruments ended up with additional stops that were given as gifts from the Schlueter family. 

We consider it one of our greatest strengths to be able to work in different styles and engineer solutions that would be difficult for other firms. The design of both of these instruments required custom engineering, particularly in the case of First Presbyterian Church and the 1896 organ case. A hallmark of our work is to be sensitive to the architecture and history of the churches we work with. I am confident this is what we did in Galveston.

While we would never claim the tonal mantle of the Pilcher or Hook & Hastings firms, we hope that Schlueter’s fingerprints have melded with sonic impressions left by these predecessors. We hope that if these past luminaries were able to visit, our work would be equally pleasing and identifiable to them.

Building these two instruments required the talents of many people. I would be remiss if I did not thank the members of the Schlueter team who spent the long hours away from home to do so. We are grateful for the efforts of Arthur E. Schlueter, Jr., Arthur E. Schlueter, III, John Tanner, Marc Conley, Patrick Hodges, Rob Black, Jeremiah Hodges, Peter Duys, James (Bud) Taylor, Jr., Bob Weaver, Al Schroer, Shan Dalton-Bowen, Barbara Sedlacek, Michael DeSimone, Dallas Wood, Clifton Frierson, Ruth Lopez, and Kelvin Cheatham. 

Visit our website at, e-mail us at [email protected], or write to us at P. O. Box 838, Lithonia, Georgia 30058.

—Arthur E. Schlueter, III

Visual and Tonal Direction

A. E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company


First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 

Galveston Island, Texas

GREAT (expressive)

16 Gemshorn 12 pipes

8  Diapason 61 pipes

8 Hohl Flute 61 pipes* 

8 Gemshorn 61 pipes

8 Dulciana 61 pipes*

8 Unda Maris (TC) 49 pipes

4 Octave 61 pipes

4 Rohr Flute 61 pipes*

2 Fifteenth 61 pipes

III–IV Mixture 208 pipes

16 Oboe TC (Swell)

8 Trumpet (Swell)

8 Oboe (Swell)

Chimes (existing tubes and actions 


SWELL (expressive)

16 Lieblich Gedeckt 12 pipes*

8 Diapason 61 pipes*

8 Stopped Diapason 61 pipes*

8 Salicional 61 pipes*

8 Voix Celeste 61 pipes*

4 Diapason 61 pipes*

4 Harmonic Flute 61 pipes*

223 Nazard 61 pipes

2 Flageolet 61 pipes* 

135 Tierce (TC) 49 pipes

16 Oboe TC (ext)

8 Trumpet 61 pipes

8 Oboe 61 pipes*


POSITIV (preparation for future)

16 Gemshorn (Great)

8 Stopped Diapason (Swell)

8 Gemshorn (Great)

8 Dulciana (Great)

8 Unda Maris (Great)

4 Gemshorn (Great)

4 Unda Maris II (Great)

16 Oboe (Swell)

8 Trumpet (Swell)

8 Oboe (Swell)


32 Acoustic Bass (resultant)

16 Gemshorn (Great)

16 Subbass 32 pipes

16 Lieblich Gedeckt (Swell)

8 Octave (1–12 Great) 20 pipes

8 Gemshorn (Great)

8 Subbass 12 pipes

8 Gedeckt (Swell)

4 Choral Bass 12 pipes

4 Gedeckt (Swell)

32 Harmonics (Wired Cornet)

16 Trompette 12 pipes

8 Trompette (Swell)

8 Oboe (Swell)

*From original Pilcher Organ


Coupler Rail

Great to Pedal 8-4

Swell to Pedal 8-4

Positiv on Pedal 8

Swell to Great 16-8-4

Positiv on Great 8

Swell to Swell 16-UO-4

Positiv on Swell

Positiv to Positiv 16-UO-4

Swell to Positiv 16-8-4

MIDI on Pedal, Great, Swell, Positiv


25 ranks


First Presbyterian Church, 

Galveston Island, Texas (III/54)


16 Contra Dulciana (Choir)

16 Lieblich Gedeckt (Swell)

8 Diapason 61 pipes* 

8 2nd Diapason 41 pipes* 

(balance from Ped Dbl Open Diap)

8 Gamba 61 pipes*

8 Doppel Flute 61 pipes*

8 Bourdon (TC) 49 pipes*

    (H&H bass from Doppel) 

4 Octave 61 pipes*

4 Doppel Flute 12 pipes*

2 Fifteenth 61 pipes*

IV–V Mixture 113 281 pipes

16 Contra Oboe (Swell)

8 Cornopean (Swell)

8 Oboe (Swell)

8 Clarinet (Choir)

8 Tromba (Swell) (non-coupling)


Chimes (Great) (25 notes)**

Zimbelstern (multiple bells)

CHOIR (enclosed)

16 Contra Dulciana**

8 English Diapason 61 pipes* 

8 Concert Flute 61 pipes* 

8 Dulciana 61 pipes*

8 Unda Maris (TC) 49 pipes 

4 Principal 61 pipes

4 Traverse Flute 61 pipes*

223 Nasat (TC) 49 pipes 

2 Flautino 61 pipes*

135 Terz (TC) 49 pipes

113 Quint 12 pipes

IV Scharf-Zimbel 23 244 pipes

8 Clarinet  61 pipes*

16 Tromba (Sw) (non-coupling)

8 Tromba (Sw) (non-coupling)

4 Tromba (Sw) (non-coupling)

Harp (61 notes)**


Choir to Choir 16-UO-4

SWELL (enclosed)

16 Lieblich Gedeckt 12 pipes*

8 Geigen Diapason 61 pipes*

8 Stopped Diapason 61 pipes*

8 Salicional 61 pipes*

8 Voix Celeste (TC) 49 pipes*

8 Muted Strings III 159 pipes*

4 Geigen Octave 61 pipes

4 Fern Flute  61 pipes*

223 Nazard (TC) 49 pipes

2 Flageolet  24 pipes*

135 Tierce (TC) 49 pipes

IV–VI Plein Jeu 2 330 pipes

16 Contra Oboe TC (ext)

8 Cornopean  61 pipes*

8 Oboe 61 pipes*

8 Vox Humana 61 pipes*

4 Clarion (fr Cornopean) 24 pipes

8 Tromba 61 pipes


Swell to Swell 16-UO-4


32 Violone**

32 Bourdon**

16 Double Open Diapason 73 pipes*

16 Open Wood**

16 Contra Dulciana (Choir)

16 Subbass 32 pipes*

16 Lieblich Gedeckt (Swell)

8 Octave 12 pipes*

8 Diapason (from 16)

8 Subbass 12 pipes*

8 Stopped Diapason (Swell)

4 Choral Bass 32 pipes

4 Doppel Flute (Great)

4 Lieblich Flute (Swell)

III Mixture 223 96 pipes

32 Contra Trombone**

32 Harmonics 

16 Trombone 32 pipes* 

    (wood resonators)

16 Contra Trumpet (Crnpn) 12 pipes

8 Cornopean (Swell)

8 Oboe (Swell)

4 Clarion (Swell)

4 Clarinet (Choir)

8 Tromba (Swell)


Inter-Manual Couplers

Great to Pedal 8-4

Swell to Pedal 8-4

Choir to Pedal 8-4

Swell to Great 16-8-4

Choir to Great 16-8-4

Swell to Choir 16-8-4

Choir/Great Transfer (On piston, divisional pistons transfer)


MIDI Controls (programmable as preset stops): MIDI on Pedal A, B; Great A, B; Swell A, B; Choir A, B


* Hook and Hastings pipework



44 ranks


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